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12 Skills Every Professional Needs
to Succeed in the Modern Workplace
The modern workplace isn’t a single physical place in most organizations.
The modern workplace is a realm, a culture. It often comprises people working from multiple locations in different cities, states, time zones, and even countries. Some may be full-time employees working from a traditional office. Others are contractors working at a different employer. Since COVID-19, more and more people are working from home. Co-workers can spend years with each other without physically meeting, only communicating electronically.
The chaos of the modern workplace has added to the stress of working under the pressure to produce results in a world of uncertainty.
Some professionals struggle to grow and move up in the modern workplace. The ones that succeed typically exhibit the following 12 skills.
The modern workplace changes as often as the weather in the Midwest (and for non-Midwesterners, that means a lot).
Businesses are bought and sold every day. Products come and go. The marketplace evolves. Organizational charts are rewritten. Budgets are slashed. There are always new rules, new technology and new trends to learn.
In the post-COVID-19 workplace, change also includes more remote work, more video conferences, and less structure.
Adaptability is highly sought after by employers because it makes people better employees and leaders, more productive, and more likely to remain with the company long-term.
Adaptable employees will move up in their organizations and have more career options than those who struggle to adapt to change.
The modern workplace includes employees of varying ages, education levels, backgrounds, beliefs, and cultures.
You are often interacting with people from different countries. Co-workers have distinct lives outside of work and diverse motivations at work.
This can sometimes lead to workplace conflict. But conflict is minimized when people can understand and relate to the thoughts, emotions and experiences of others without judgement. This is empathy.
Employees and leaders who exhibit empathy relate better to co-workers and customers. They understand when a teammate’s family emergency pulls them away and are willing to step in and help. They recognize the needs of others and can help them achieve their goals. Empathetic people have a positive effect on overall company morale.
The modern workplace depends on the free flow of ideas, information, and instruction.
This has always been true, but is even more so in a workplace altered by global economics, generational preferences and, of course, a pandemic.
The teams you work with are no longer confined to the same floor of the same building. They may be spread out in multiple cities and countries, in time zones hours ahead or behind you.
Successful professionals regularly connect with co-workers about everything from ongoing projects to new opportunities and external threats. They must possess the ability to communicate through face-to-face conversations, large group meetings, email, instant messaging, phone calls, project management software, and impromptu discussions. They must also find the right balance between communicating too little and over-communicating.
Don’t forget that proper communication isn’t limited to what you say or write. It’s just as important to listen to customers and co-workers.
The modern workplace requires employees to ask questions and search for answers.
If you wait for others to voluntarily communicate the information and instruction required to succeed, you will fall behind. If you proactively discover the keys to job success, you’ll become indispensable.
Employees who exhibit curiosity in the workplace are more likely to succeed because they generate alternative solutions to existing problems, they innovate ways for the company to make money or save it, and they discover ways to add value beyond their job descriptions.
The modern workplace is teeming with data. Companies harvest up-to-the-minute intelligence on their customers, distributors, website traffic, order volume, employee performance, and a host of other factors.
Data directs much of the decision-making in the modern workplace. What products to sell and where to sell them and to who? How much to budget for marketing, distribution, customer support, and employee recruitment? Where to invest and divest?
Successful professionals can collect, analyze, and comprehend all sorts of data. They can spot patterns, identify what’s relevant and what isn’t, and report the meaning of the data collected to others.
See our page on Competitive Intelligence for more
In the modern workplace, data doesn’t always tell the full story. To fill the gaps left by incomplete or inaccurate data, successful professionals must rely on intuition.
Intuition is often called a “gut feeling.” But true intuition is not an emotion. It’s a confident wisdom a person gleans over time from knowledge and experience, from the lessons learned from successes and failures.
Professionals can develop intuition by listening to experts in their field, constant reading, and focused observation of the world that impacts their business. Take advantage of opportunities to participate in key projects and major initiatives to grow your business intuition.
The critical tasks of the modern workplace do not involve day-to-day, repetitive work. The most important work involves comprehensive projects involving co-workers from multiple departments.
These projects may include product launches, new marketing initiatives, or software deployment.
A successful professional can manage these types of products. This includes possessing skills in team leadership, time management, budgeting, communication, and giving and receiving feedback.
The modern workplace is distracting. Meetings, emails, the latest quarterly reports, small talk in the next cubicle. There are also non-work-related distractions like social media, following the latest pandemic news and, for remote workers, all the distractions of home.
Professionals who can focus on specific tasks for sustained periods perform better and are more productive. Those who can’t are generally less creative and make poor decisions.
Like many skills, focus takes practice and discipline. Try to create a work environment that enables you to focus. Avoid looking at your phone or surfing the web when you hit a lull. Schedule short breaks and avoid checking email when you know you need to focus on a task.
The modern workplace is run by software. Project management software. Content management. Customer management. Business intelligence. HR management. Marketing management. Asset management. Risk management. Accounting. Governance. Most of your daily tasks will involve software.
Knowing how to use a variety of software is a necessity for many companies. The more proficient you are, the more productive and efficient you can perform your job.
You may not know how to use every type and brand of software used by an organization. But the more exposure and practice you have on various software applications, the easier it is for you to learn new ones.
The modern workplace doesn’t always provide tangible rewards for a job well done.
The successful professional isn’t motivated by external factors. It’s their intrinsic motivation that produces a high level of performance.
Intrinsic motivation is doing a job because of the positive feelings it provides. It may be pride in the end result. It could also be the satisfaction in helping others or the enjoyment of the work itself.
Professionals who tap into their intrinsic motivation perform better and add value to their organization. In doing so, they eventually receive the extrinsic rewards (raises, bonuses, promotions) that others don’t receive.
When it comes to problem-solving, the modern workplace employs two types of workers.
The first group are people who complain about workplace problems. They point them out, complain to anybody who will listen, and use them as an excuse for producing lacklustre work.
The second group solves problems. Although nothing will ever be perfect, they realize any problem can be resolved with creativity, persistence, and teamwork.
Every workplace has problems. It’s what happens when you bring many people with different skills, attitudes, tasks, and motivations into a complex environment of roles, systems, and hierarchies.
And guess what? The modern workplace in the post-pandemic world has and will continue to create opportunities to use problem-solving skills.
If there’s one thing all professionals should understand, it’s this: A paycheck is never guaranteed (unless you have a guaranteed contract, which you probably don’t).
Even if you exhibit all of previously mentioned 11 skills, you can find yourself without work at any moment. Layoffs happen.
To prepare for this possibility, professionals should build and maintain an emergency fund. This is money set aside to help you through unexpected events that can hurt you financially. Having an emergency fund can improve your financial security and minimize the stress of a job loss.
Your career can also be derailed by an accident or injury that limits your ability to work. Therefore, your financial preparedness should include long term disability insurance. This type of insurance covers the potential loss of income caused by injury or illness.
If you are unable to work because of a covered disability, the policy will replace part of your income. You will receive these benefits for as long as you’re disabled or up to a maximum period of time spelled out in the policy.
Which skills can you improve?
If you read carefully, you’ll notice that all of these skills are connected. Solving problems often requires empathy, communication, and adaptability. You need to make decisions based on data comprehension and intuition, both of which require curiosity to tap into. Focusing on your intrinsic motivations instead of external distractions makes you more adaptable to the changing workplace.
Honestly assess your proficiency in these skills. Determine which ones provide an opportunity for improvement. As you work on improving those, you’ll get better in the others.
Then you’re on your way to becoming a successful professional in the modern workplace.
About the Author
Jack Wolstenholm is the head of content at Breeze, a digital-first insurance company that offers simple, affordable income protection for the modern workforce.